Mango, the favourite fruit

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“The flavour and dimension. The completeness. Ripe and unripe. Tart, crispy, crunchy. Such diversity. So delicious!” With mango season on the horizon, we chat to mango maestro Allen Susser and celebrate our favourite fruit

Allen Susser gets very excited about mangoes. The Florida-based chef has a major passion for the tropical fruit. He’s the spokesman for the US National Mango Board and has even written a 140-page guide to them, The Great Mango Book. Naturally, when mango season hits the Caribbean, there’s nowhere he’d rather be. So for much of June, Chef Allen decamps to St Lucia to spearhead Mango Month and find a thousand ways to cook with the island’s abundance of fresh, juicy fruits.

“There is such excitement with fruit in the Caribbean,” says Allen. “The first time I visited St Lucia I was driving up from the airport and the whole roadside was dripping with mangoes. I thought: this is my type of place! Some people look for gold bricks; mangoes are my gold.”

For Allen, his passion for mangoes is all-encompassing. “I love the abstract colours: canary yellows, purples, red spots, freckles and speckles,” he says. “It’s the tree, too; I love watching them grow, ripen, bloom. There are a multitude of varieties of tree, each forming different flowers. Then there’s the taste: tropical, unctuous, refreshing.”

Allen is very aware of the cultural significance of the mango in the Caribbean, despite the fact that it is not a native plant. “Mangoes have been in the Caribbean for only a few hundred years – they were introduced around the 17th century. But that doesn’t really matter. It all comes back to the whole idea of the ‘authenticity’ of food. When does that happen? At some point it just becomes a natural part of us. The food doesn’t have to originally come from the place to take on the feeling of ‘being local’.”

The types of mango that grow on each Caribbean island depend on which colonial powers influenced that place, and thus the varieties brought over. For instance, the British islands got mangoes from India. The French islands got mangoes from Tahiti. This legacy even influences how mangoes are eaten across the region. “Latin cultures tend to like their mangoes with lime and hot chillies – salt, sour, hot,” says Allen. “English-influenced islands usually prefer the fruit ripe and ready to eat, and in jams and chutneys. When English explorers brought mangoes from their Indian colonies, they couldn’t keep them fresh for the journey, so they were pickled and jarred.”

In many cultures, giving someone a basket of mangoes is considered a gesture of friendship. Mangoes also appear at special occasions – some cultures see them as almost religious. Even the location in which they’re planted can have a spiritual significance. “You don’t see that with any other fruit,” says Allen.

St Lucians seem especially enamoured with their mangoes. There are almost 30 varieties grown on the island, and every village has their own favourite type. “Mangoes are a national pastime in St Lucia – even the shape of the island resembles a mango. Each village passionately claims that they grow the best ones,” says Allen. “Mangoes often get named locally, too – they might be named for their shape, perhaps after body parts. This provides a connection to the land and the people.” Allen’s own favourite? “I really like the Julie – lush, sweet but firm, with spicy notes of cloves and cinnamon, hints of coconut and lavish flavours of fig, caramel and raisin.”

During Mango Madness, held at St Lucia’s Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain resorts, Allen masterminds a series of workshops, tastings, farm tours, parties and cooking classes. Up to 40% of the ingredients used at the two resorts are grown at the properties’ organic estates. That means a lot of first-class mangoes.

Throughout the month of June guests have the chance to work with the resorts’ expert mixologists to learn how to craft the perfect mango martini, to participate in interactive cooking classes and to tour the farm to see the mango trees growing alongside a variety of natural produce including vanilla beans, bay leaf, nutmeg trees and cinnamon trees.

“If you can connect guests with the local food, it brings out the adventure,” reckons Allen. “One of my favourite workshops is a sensory tasting, where we look at five or so different mangoes, and see how our senses absorb them. We taste them almost like wines.”

Allen also enjoys making the most of other local ingredients such as ginger and turmeric – “which go well in a mango curry” – passion fruit and ground provisions.

According to Allen, mangoes go with almost everything – from seafood (he especially recommends using mango in a raw, marinated ceviche – “the natural acidity goes nicely”) to all types of meat and, of course, rum. “Cooking with mangoes is simple and easy. The fruit can absorb spice, heat and fire with no loss of character,” he says.

So, is there anything that doesn’t go with mango? “That’s a challenge!” says Allen. “I don’t seem to be able to match earthy savouries and natural umami flavours, such as parmesan and mushrooms. And they’re better with a light, fruity, crisp white wine – such as pinot grigio or riesling – rather than a big red. But otherwise…”

 

A mango for every meal

Mouthwatering recipes from Chef Allen to help you make the most of this fruit all day long

Breakfast
“I like mangoes for breakfast with yoghurt and granola. They’re also great in fresh juice or an Indian-inspired lassi, providing a healthful beginning to the day.”

Mango Lassi
Serves 2
• 1¼ cups plain yoghurt
• 1 ripe mango, peeled, cut from the pit and diced
• 10 ice cubes
• 1 tbsp superfine sugar (optional)
Method
In a blender, combine the yoghurt, mango and ice cubes. Blend until smooth. Taste, add sugar if required and blend again. Serve in a tall chilled glass.

LUNCH
“Mangoes are low in calories and full of vitamins – a great basis for a light, refreshing lunch.”

Southeast Asian Mango and Avocado Salad
Serves 4
• 1 large cucumber, peeled, sliced lengthways, seeded and cut into ¼ inch crosswise slices
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
• ½ cup cooked green beans, finely sliced
• ½ cup bean sprouts
• Third of a cup rice vinegar
• 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
• 2 red chillies, seeded and minced
• 2 tsp sugar
• 1 small ripe mango, peeled, cut from the pit and sliced
• 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
• ¼ cup fresh mint
Method
In a medium bowl, toss the cucumber, tomatoes, beans and bean sprouts together. Cover and refrigerate for 1-4 hours. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, lime juice, chillies and sugar. Still until the sugar dissolves. To serve, arrange the salad mix, avocado and mango on four plates. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with mint.

DINNER
“I like mango with fish – rainbow runner, mackerel and kingfish are ideal. Mangoes also go well with poultry, which sucks up flavour, and also in Indian-inspired curries and pickles.”

Shrimp and Mango Curry
Serves 4
• 2 tbsp unsalted butter
• 1 onion, diced
• 1 tbsp minced garlic
• 1 tbsp minced ginger
• 3 tbsp madras curry powder
• ½ tsp cayenne pepper
• 3 tsp sea salt
• 2 cups canned coconut milk
• 2 cups water
• 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
• ½ tsp ground black pepper
• 16 jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
• 1 mature green mango, peeled, cut from the pit and diced
• 3 tbsp minced green onion
• 3 tbsp chopped coriander
Method
In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until aromatic. Stir in the ginger, curry powder, cayenne and 2 tsp salt. Stir in coconut milk and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Season the shrimp with 1 tsp salt and pepper. Add the shrimp and mango to the pan, return to a simmer and cook for 4-5 minutes. Serve, garnished with green onion and coriander.

 

Cocktail o’clock
“Oh my goodness – mangoes in cocktails! When mango season hits you have to think fast and use loads of them. Mix them up in a lot of vodka for an infusion of tropical flavour. Oh yeah!”

Chef Allen’s Mango Martini
Serves 2
• Ice cubes
• 1 cup mango vodka*
• 2 twists lime zest
Method
Put the ice cubes in a shaker glass. Pour the vodka over the ice cubes and shake well. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with a lime twist.
• To make the mango vodka, peel three ripe mangoes, cut from the pit and sliced into large cubes. Put the mangoes in a clean, 1-quart mason jar. Add 2 cups of vodka and seal the jar. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 2-3 days before using. Store leftover vodka for up to 5 days. Makes 2 cups.

Dessert
“Mangoes are delicious ripe and on their own, or in a sorbet. Also, the lush creaminess of cheesecake is a perfect foil for a rich, complex-tasting mango.”

Mango cheesecake
Serves 10
• 2 large ripe mangoes, peeled, cut from the pit and chopped
• 1¼ cups sugar
• 1½ lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
• 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
Method
Preheat the oven to 300°. Line the bottom of a buttered 10-inch springform pan with a round of waxed paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the sides and the base of the pan with ¼ cup of sugar. In a food processor, purée the mango until smooth. Pass the purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. You should have at least three cups. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup sugar and continue to beat on medium speed until completely incorporated. Add and beat in the mango purée. Add the eggs into the mango mixture, with the motor running, in three parts, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Wrap the bottom of the springform pan with aluminium foil to keep it from leaking. Pour the batter into the pan and place into a larger baking pan. Add water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for about 90 minutes. Test the centre with a small knife to see that it comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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